Potable Water for Power Outage Survival

“Honey, the lights won’t turn on.”

That’s how it starts, or rather, that’s the first time the reality of the event hits home. The lack of power is an annoyance; and then the veracity of its permanence sets in. The first day, you habitually hit the light switch and curse, because it’s the fifth time that hour you’ve tried to turn on the lights, even though you know the power’s off. After two days, your freezer melts; your meat begins to thaw. One week in, you begin to think that the power will never come back on. A week later, as you sit in on your couch pondering what to do, your kid shouts from the bathroom, “Daddy, there’s no water from the sink!”

That’s right, after about one to two weeks without power, the diesel generators powering the pumps that push water up to the water towers run dry and water stop flowing from the faucets.

What do you do? Where do you get water? How do you make it safe for consumption?

The good news is there are options. Some better than others, but all worth knowing.

Water can be gotten from a number of places: hot water heaters, rain spouts, lakes, streams, ponds. The main problem with water from most places is that it’s got bacteria, protozoa, algae, dirt, chemicals, and small microbes living in it.

What’s in the water?

  • Algae are harmless. They can stink and discolor your water, but will not harm you.
  • Bacteria are bad. You need to either destroy it or its reproductive capability. It can lead to terrible sickness and death.
  • Protozoan. You need to kill them and their cysts (eggs).
  • Dirt. Makes the water brown and may smell. It won’t harm you.
  • Chemicals. Depends on what chemicals they are. Generally, water contaminated with some chemicals (fertilizers) won’t harm you if consumed in small quantities over a short period of time.
  • Microbes. These are amoebas and other living creatures in the water. Some are bad, some aren’t. Kill them all.

How can you make it safe to drink? There are many options; I’m going to cover the most feasible.

1) You can heat the water to 180F for any period of time. Water boils at 212F, so it doesn’t really need to boil, but it’s a good indicator that at least 180 degrees has been reached. Heating water to 180 will kill bacteria, microbes, and protozoan. It will not remove dirt, algae (dead, but still there), or chemicals. To do this, you’ll need a heat source. Cost? Depends on the source and availability of fuel. Free to $$$.
2) You can treat the water with chemicals like chlorine and iodine. 6-18 drops of household bleach/ gallon of water will kill nearly all bacteria and protozoa (some cysts may survive). However, if you suspect your water supply may have feces in it (run off from nearby cow pastures, run off from roofs (bird poop), then you ought to treat it with tincture of iodine as well. 20-40 drops depending on cloudiness of water. It will not remove dirt, algae (dead, but still there), and chemicals. Bleach has a shelf life of only a few years. To make your own bleach, mix 1 heaped teaspoon calcium hypochlorite with 2 gallons of water. You can treat an entire 55 gallon drum with ¼ teaspoon of calcium hypochlorite (pool shock). Pool shock (be sure to ONLY get calcium hypochlorite) will store indefinitely if kept air tight in a plastic container. To do this, you’ll need chemicals. Cost? $5 for a small bag of pool shock and $50 for enough bottles of iodine to last at least a year (what do you do when the chemicals run out?)


3) You can treat it with UV light for 6 hours. Where do you get UV light? From the Sun! You can put water into clear water bottles and set them in the sun (no overcast or shadows) for 6 hours and it will kill the bacteria and protozoan. It won’t remove dirt, algae, or any of the smell or bad taste. But it’s better than nothing. To do this you’ll need water bottles, a sunny day, and time. Cost? Nothing. (Tip: the best water to collect is from the top 12” of lake water due to it being hit with UV light all day long)


4) You can filter it. This is actually my #1 recommendation. Filtering with at least a .5 micron filter will remove all bacteria, protozoan, algae, microbes (larger than .5 micron) and dirt. If your filter has activated charcoal, it can remove most of the chemicals, bad taste, and smell. Filtering can be done easily with a berkfield-type gravity water filter. It requires no energy, no chemicals, and very little time (up to 75 gallons/day). The filter will last for years (the charcoal will need replacing after a year of use). To do this, you’ll need a water filter and two 5 gallon buckets. Cost $30 – $300.

For water filters, you can purchase a pretty stainless steel or plastic one that’s pre-made and looks and works good. Or you can go the route that I did and make your own for pennies on the dollar. www.InternetPrepper.com sells a .2 micron water filter kit for under $30 (plus $10 shipping). It comes with a ceramic water filter, a pre-filter sock, and a spigot. Their filter has been tested by Johns Hopkins and many other independent laboratories and is NOT made in China. All you do is acquire two five gallon buckets, drill some holes, and assemble the filter and spigot and you’re done. BTW, Chad, the owner of Internet Prepper is a USAF veteran and sponsor of this website. Please check out his products.

So, as you sit on your couch listening to the kids holler that there’s no water from the faucet, you can answer, “It’ll be okay.” And it will, because you are now armed with the knowledge required to make drinkable water. But knowing is only half the battle, will you now go and purchase a water filter or container of pool shock before it’s too late? I hope you do.